Don’t Worry, Be Happy*

Photo Credit: Américo Nunes via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Américo Nunes via Wikimedia Commons

(*Some geographical restrictions may apply)

Some time ago, the University of Leicester released what was dubbed the ‘world’s first happiness map.’ Several variations have since been produced by other organizations.

The original, produced by Adrian White, an analytic social psychologist, was the result of reviewing data published by several organizations like UNESCO and the WHO (the organization, not Pete Townsend’s band). Participants in the various studies had been asked questions related to happiness and their overall satisfaction with life.

The map is surprising for many reasons. The first is that the study author resisted using stacked happy face icons to illustrate levels of happiness on the map. The second is that there is no longer something rotten in the state of Denmark (sorry, Shakespeare), as it was the happiest place on Earth. Switzerland, Austria, Iceland, The Bahamas, Finland, Sweden, Bhutan, Brunei and Canada rounded out the top ten.

The unhappiest places on Earth were the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and Burundi. I suspect there are a few other places on Earth that might rank as even unhappier, but potential respondents are too busy avoiding bombs to answer surveys.

So what makes a country’s citizens happy? It’s an important question, as governments have started looking at happiness as a potential measure of a country’s well-being as well as GDP. (GDP stands for Gross Domestic Product, which is private consumption + government + investment + net exports. It is not, as any new mother might surmise, something your baby produces). Adrian White suggested that happiness is associated with health, followed by wealth and then education. Of course, I think there are several other reasons to explain why some countries are happier than others.

Switzerland obviously ranks well because of one thing: Swiss chocolate.

As for the other countries in the top ten, you will note they are primarily northern countries with cold climates. Colder climates make for happier people because:

1. Good weather is so rare that when it does happen, we really, really appreciate it.
2. Cold weather makes for better hockey. And there’s nothing like watching 10 men or women with blades on their feet and big sticks fighting over a puck to get your aggressions out.
3. Cold weather also reduces the number of nasty, poisonous things wandering about the countryside. I’m quite happy that the local swimming pool doesn’t have to be checked for water snakes, and that I don’t have to arm wrestle the spiders that sometimes invade my house.

The US, in spite of famous documents talking about the right to pursue happiness, isn’t quite as chipper as you might expect, coming in as it did at 23. Apart from war woes, one suspects US happiness levels drop every time former President Bush speaks goes abroad. This is because Americans fear that if he gave Russian President Vladimir Putin the same impromptu shoulder massage he gave Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin would judo fling him across the room and geopolitics as we know it would go all to hell.

Australia, coming in at 26, was obviously somewhat miffed that I made fun of their winter sports aspirations a few weeks ago. France, meanwhile, came in at 62nd in world happiness, which just goes to show that while French women may not get fat, they’re not exactly thrilled about being thin either.

Japan was astonishingly low in the rankings as well, coming in at 90. According to Naomi Moriyama, Japanese women don’t get old *or* fat, so I’m not sure why the Japanese aren’t happier. On the other hand, anyone who has seen an episode of The Iron Chef will know that the Japanese have an entirely different perspective on what’s funny and entertaining than we do here in the west.

China, India and Russia all scored near the bottom of the list too, which is odd, considering that these countries are on their way up the world economic and status scales. White suggests that big countries and/or big populations reduce happiness, but personally, I think there can only be one explanation: my work hasn’t yet been translated into Chinese, Indian and Russian languages yet. I must see someone about this.

Meat to Order

biofabricating meat

Earlier this year, a paper in the journal Tissue Engineering caused a media stir. It was the first peer-reviewed paper to discuss the industrial production of ‘cultured meat’ — meat grown in a lab or factory.

The paper proved two things:

1) The fastest way to a journalist’s heart (and thus into the headlines) is through his stomach.
2) Some academic journals have really strange names. This one sounds like it could also be called Kleenex® Construction.

The process for culturing meat would work like this: First, take some cells from a farm animal and put them in a nutrient-rich medium to multiply. After that, have them calculate pi, so that there’s something for dessert.

Okay, seriously, when there are enough cells, they would be attached to a scaffold and soaked in nutrients again. The resulting tissue would be mechanically stretched (exercised) to increase its size and protein content, and then harvested. After being seasoned and cooked, it would be consumed as boneless processed meat, like in sausages or chicken nuggets.

I know what you’re thinking: Ick! The whole idea of growing meat in vats just seems strange; you’re not sure if you could eat artificially produced meat. You’d much rather stick to real food, like Cheese Whiz, Twinkies and Pringles.

The thing is though, growing meat this way definitely has some advantages. You could engineer the meat to be leaner, or to contain healthier fats overall. You wouldn’t have the same requirements for drugs and growth hormones. A more controlled environment means less risk for things like mad cow disease. And most importantly, we wouldn’t have to clunk Bessie over the head to get a decent hamburger.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m very fond of steak, especially when it’s medium-rare and accompanied by a merlot. But it is sometimes hard to reconcile the fact that something cute had to croak so that I can eat, especially since I didn’t grow up on a farm.

Indeed, one of the crueler anachronisms of our time is the fact that, although most of us are urbanites, the first images we present to our children are cartoon barnyard animals. My husband is attempting to immunize our child against the day she makes the connection to what’s on her plate by teaching her the phrase, “There’s good eating on one of those.”

At some point though, it would be nice not to have to kill whole, sentient beings in order to eat; so we’re just going to have to get past those gooey-things-in-Petri-dishes scenes Hollywood has planted in our heads.

We’re also going to have to relax a bit more about genetically modified foods. We’ve been genetically altering things for centuries — for proof, take a look at a St. Bernard and a Chihuahua. And those cattle that we munch on today are not the same animals we started with when we all lived along the Nile in Egypt. (Which is just as well, because while I like my beef well-aged, that would be a bit much.) In the past, we did our engineering through cross-breeding and lots of trial and error. Modern methods just mean we’re learning how to be more precise.

If the ick factor is still getting to you, consider this: It’s probably not the science that bothers you. You are probably more worried about the human factors; those in charge getting it wrong, or not always having your best interests at heart. Well, you can relax a bit about that too — technology is moving quickly enough that very shortly after we perfect the methods for culturing meat, you’ll be able to do it yourself at home.

I only hope it’s not printer-based technology. If it is, I may find myself starving by the light of a PC LOAD LETTER error message.

14 Signs You Are An Entrepreneur

 

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  1. You always work the statutory holidays because it’s quiet at the office and you can get sh*t done.
  2. You get ridiculously excited by terms like automate, replicate, and scale.
  3. You catch yourself trying to apply those terms to chores at home, and sometimes even to your kids.
  4. You hope no one ever invents a Breathalyzer for caffeine because you would blow over the limit. By 8 a.m.
  5. You work 12 hours a day for yourself so that you don’t have to work eight hours a day for someone else.
  6. You actually like public transportation because it means you don’t have to waste time driving when you could be getting sh*t done.
  7. You keep a journal, not to record your thoughts and feelings, but to brain dump all your ideas for businesses and processes – otherwise you would never get to sleep.
  8. You are a connoisseur of calendar and to-do list apps, to the point where you have even dedicated an hour to designing the ultimate version.
  9. You say you have ADHD like it’s a good thing.
  10. At least once in your life, you have configured your sales invoice emails or your paid download alerts to play a cha-ching! sound when they come in.
  11. You are a sucker for any headline that uses the words improve or productivity because you are still hoping science has come up with a way to cram 48 hours into a single day.
  12. Your kids know that they have to call your name at least three times to get you to look up from your smart phone.
  13. You haven’t watched real time television in at least a decade. If you watch a TV series at all, you prefer to wait until you hear that it ends well so you know it is worth the time investment. Then you rent the DVDs.
  14. You really, really like getting sh*t done.